Posted by: maboulette | August 3, 2011

PLANET HUNTERS


Sagittarius Window Eclipsing Extrasolar Planet...

Image via Wikipedia

Planet Hunters, the latest project from the Zooniverse, is a citizen science project. Participants help sieve through data taken by the NASA Kepler space mission. These data consist of brightness measurements, or “light curves,” taken every thirty minutes for more than 150,000 stars. Users search for possible transit events – a brief dip in brightness that occurs when a planet passes in front of the star – with the goal of discovering a planet (hence the name “Planet Hunters”). 

The most difficult detections for Planet Hunters and for computer-based searches are those from planets that orbit far from their star and therefore cross the star infrequently. It may also be difficult for computer algorithms to detect planets in data that has artificial offsets (which can occur with telescope pointing errors or space craft rolls). 

Planet Hunter participants in many cases can be better than computers at finding signals in this type of data. Because of the outstanding pattern recognition of the human brain, they hope that participants will also establish new “families” or classifications for the light curves. They are standing by to obtain more data at telescopes to better understand the underlying physical reason for the different classifications. 

Computers are great at many things, but some tasks that are easy for humans are still extremely difficult for a computer. For instance, a small child can effortlessly tell hundreds of human faces apart, while computers still struggle with this seemingly basic task. Humans also have the capacity to recognize if something is odd or unexpected. So when scientists are faced with the task of analyzing complex data, the human brain is often better at sorting through it than a computers. 

So, are you interested in looking for new planets?   If so, then this is the place for you to go – Planet Hunters – register and start looking for planets!

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